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Strange Defeat Unknown Binding – 1949


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  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (1949)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001A8CHO8
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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First Sentence
THIS penetrating, poignant, outspoken book stands out among other books about France and the first year of the Second World War as the work of a very distinguished scholar, a professor of the Sorbonne, who was later to be one of the leaders in the movement of resistance and to be put to death for his part in it. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By mark eliot on 30 May 2014
Marc Bloch, in the three months after the French defeat wrote this fascinating analysis of the French defeat in 1940. Remember Bloch, the great medieval historian, is a little off his own field, but he writes in the aftermath of the defeat in which he took part fighting for the French. There is no excuse for any typo errors in the text, but these faults remain with the publisher and not with Bloch. Bloch places the blame squarely with the generals and politicians who were completely inadequate in regard to the sheet speed of the blitzkrieg advance into France where Bloch's unit was retreating but always finding the Germans behind them, so it proved impossible for the French to re-group or counter attack. Bloch takes wider implications of the invasion and blames such things as pacifism within French thinking as a factor in the eventual defeat. The fact that Bloch was writing at the time, so close to the events, gives the historians eye to something fresh. The narrative tells its own story and is really the account of the defeat that later histories build upon.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Edward B. Crutchley on 20 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase
I found this personal account of the fall of France in 1940 difficult reading. Unaided by an appalling number of printing mistakes, the text appears to ramble on and lack structure. The content, however, is fascinating. The author describes all manner of weaknesses of the French army and difficulties of communication with the BEF which all seem to boil down to a general sclerosis and lack of accountability. The situation was unaided by a lack of new blood in key positions, which is a remarkably honest observation since the author himself, a captain, was 50. Whereas Napoleon's generals were very often in their 30's, in 1940 too many officers had already been there in a much different 1918 and thought they knew better. Bloch's most damning accusation occurs after an experience remarkably similar to that of Davout's personal secretary in 1815, just after Waterloo, who took to sleeping outside his master's door in the outskirts of Paris and one night overheard him talking of capitulation. In Bloch's case it was General Blanchard, Commander of the 1st Army Group. Both men had overheard a time-bomb that they could not reveal to anyone. But the author doesn't only blame his superiors; he also takes shots at teachers (his own civilian profession), union leaders, as well as too many officers inclined to over-react while failing to think through their actions.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
82 of 85 people found the following review helpful
Superb evaluation of the French Defeat 31 Oct. 2001
By Mark Twain - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I keep returning to this book as among the best I've ever read. It is both good reading as military history and failure analysis: no one has been able to write so deftly and originally about why France fell so swiftly in 1940. Unlike other military history books, this one is not heavy on maps nor units nor armament, merely a very incisive and friendly discussion of why France fells so quickly.
Having served during WW1 and serving during WW2, Marc Bloch points to a litany of reasons why the French army, which was better equipted than the Germans, collapsed so suddenly. Despite what I learned in highschool about the French defeat of WW2 (France was overconfident behind the Maginot Line), Marc Bloch tells a different reason. The French army never understood how the speed of modern weapons had shortened space. Marc Bloch, serving at the front in 1940, recalled that the German offensive actually seem to overtake each French retreat: whenever Marc Bloch's unit retreated in 1940, they constantly found the Germans in their rear. The consequence was the French army was in a perpetual retreat and lacked the time to mount a proper counter offensive.
Marc Bloch also points to the cultural factors in the French defeat, namely the French education system which ignored history and visual arts in its cirriculum. He proposes a greater emphasis on both. I agree with the latter: in the US, we are saturated with images but we are visually illiterate. As for history, there is now too much emphasis on history without a comparable attempt to work things out in the present. This is a terrific book that reads like a no-holds barred fight.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Indispensible for Understanding 20th Century France 15 Oct. 2006
By I. Martinez-Ybor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This slim, unpretentious volume, written at the time events took place, and validated by the author's subsequent death at German's hands, is the best witness account we have of the disintegration of what at the time was regarded the most powerful army in the Allied camp. There is a dry-eyed innocence in the reporting that makes the shattering news it conveys more momentous than anything I have read in more scholarly, more documented, chronicles of the period which overwhelm citizen experience with broader perspectives. This is not to minimize others' works, nor to regard M. Bloch as a "minimalist": au contraire. He was a world-renowned medieval scholar, so his mind was nuanced and perceptive, his approach unsentimental and objective; he brings the full intellectual rigor of his training and experience to extract all possible social, historical, and moral truth from the seemingly mundane. He was in his late forties when the war started but nonetheless, served with honor, very much with his eyes-opened, did his duty in the army and kept his brain functioning throughout rather than putting it on hold in blind patriotism (such a treacherous, over-rated popular paliative). He kept at his craft but rather than delving in ancient manuscripts he reported on what he observed around him of an army, indeed a state, in rapid collapse. The macro waves drowning the country are inferred from his micro observations. Indeed the many treasures come in seemingly casual descriptions of mundane events like millions of naked, flickering, low-wattage light-bulbs adumbrating the tragedy of national collapse. Bloch comes to a melancholic but inherently optimistic conclusion: the future of France will be built not by men of his generation, but by a new breed. How ironic this observation in the midst of the overwhelming propaganda for Petain's phony reactionary, bullying National Revolution and its relatively widespread support (at least in its early stages) in Occupied and Vichy France. This book was written after the defeat and before he joined the Resistance (in whose service he was captured, tortured and killed by the Gestapo). Even in the most abject moments of defeat, I don't think Bloch ever wavered in the belief that the Germans would eventually have to go. Indeed, without regret or melancholy, there seems to have been an absolute faith in the eventual disappearance of the old, pre-popular front, pre-war French order, as much as of French political and military men, as of pre-war French bourgeoisie. The book could have been written by a character in Renoir's 1939 masterpiece "Regle du Jeu." This is real though, and our author a genuine hero. Perhaps it would have been ironically interesting, had he lived, to learn what he would have made of Indochine, Algerie, Gaullism and the heady days of 1968.

For anyone interested in the second world war and French history, this little book is indispensible.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Classic Account of a Shocking Defeat 25 July 2006
By Rastignac - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The simple-minded are apt to chalk up the shocking defeat of France in the summer of 1940 to French weakness. If you'd rather think a bit more deeply, read this classic account by the pioneering medieval historian. Bloch, who lived through the defeat and died fighting with the French resistance, lays out a penetrating analysis of the French defeat. It is vivid, perceptive, beautifully written, and unsparing in its examination of the failures of the generals, the politicians, and the people. It is a thought-provoking cultural critique of a society in a moment of crisis. A classic.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Very Important Book...on Ideology 9 April 2007
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Other reviewers have given an excellent account of this book's main subject. What Bloch also reveals in these pages is the effect of ideology on the 20th century European mind. For example, he blasts the Germans for their embrace of "Hitlerian physics" but contrasts this to the "Marxist mathematics" promoted before the War by the French Left. He argues the spread of pacifism, first under Leon Blum and later under the High Command, prevented France's superior military from attacking the still-relatively weak Germans when they moved on the Rhineland. As he states: the German victory was fundamentally an intellectual victory, which is what made it so scary and ominous for the rest of the bloody 20th century. In this regard, consider Heidegger's towering intellect compared to Sartre's feebleness.

The book is filled with interesting anecdotal accounts of the Wehrmacht. Given the stereotypes, who knew German officers had "the bad habit of not returning salutes" properly? Who knew the German Army appeared in all respects "more democratic" than the French, with an easy camaraderie between officers and grunts? He attributes this to the powerful metaphysical bond the Nazis tapped into, especially among the young.

Anyone with knowledge of the disastrous political ideas of the 20th century will find a first-hand account confirming the worst. Bloch believed himself fully integrated into the French Republic and considered his Jewishness as secondary. The Nazis disagreed. The saddest thing in this story is that France has shown his optimism in the Republic was misplaced: French Jews are leaving in greater numbers today than anytime since Vichy.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Eyewitness Account of the French Defeat in WWII 30 Aug. 2011
By WryGuy2 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In "Strange Victory", French Army Captain Marc Bloch, gives a first-hand account of the French defeat in May-June 1940, and discusses why and how the French were defeated. Bloch was a veteran of World War I, and due to patriotic reasons, remained as a reserve officer between World War I and II, while earning a living as a professor and historian. Although he was 53 years old at the outbreak of World War II, he voluntarily elected to continue service, and was eventually assigned as a divisional fuels officer. He was assigned to the "Northern Front", and was among those encircled by the Germans in their May 1940 offensive, and was evacuated at Dunkirk. After evacuation he was returned to France in the Normandy area, and when the Germans reached his area, rather than surrender, he slipped away and returned home to write this history in 1940.

The book opens with a description of what he experienced from the outbreak of war until his return home. Although he was not a front-line officer, he was able to observe a great deal from the French side of things, from a command perpective. And because of his training as a historian, he was able to have a certain detachment, which enabled him to understand what was happening, and why. The rest of the book explains why the French were basically defeated by the Germans in only six weeks of combat whereas they had defeated the Germans 22 years before.

While Bloch has many reasons why the French lost, which he explains in great detail, several important ones were that the French were re-fighting World War I and were overwhelmed by the sheer speed of the German advance, the French leadership did not aggressively remove incompentent officers from responsible positions when they had the time, French officer training was woefully deficient in teaching the skills they'd need to fight the next war, and French political leadership was fractured.

Bloch was known as a fighter, and joined the French resistance in late 1942. He was captured by the Vichy Police and executed by the Germans in June 1944, so this book was only published posthumously in 1946. As I mentioned above, Bloch wrote this book after the French defeat, and it has a freshness and immediacy that you won't find in books written after the war. There are no maps, tables, or photographs in this book, although if you're familiar with the campaign, they really aren't needed. Although always well written and thought-provoking, the writing is often very dry, particularly in the latter parts of the book. However, even though this book was written in 1940, it describes as well as any other book written after the war why the French were beaten.

Recommended for those who want to learn more about the French defeat in 1940, as analzyed by a French officer who was there.
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